A little while back I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Ledoux, a garden blogger out of southwestern Ontario. Dave is a heck of a nice guy and a phenomenal gardener. He and his wife grow an abundant garden rich with edibles, flowers and herbs every year. He writes about his passion for growing on his blog “Back to My Garden” and even hosts a top-rated podcast that features many of his fellow garden bloggers.
We chatted via e-mail, and I learned a lot about peppers, the importance of soil amendment and how jiu jitsu makes for better gardeners. You can read more about Dave and his garden adventures below!
What zone or climate do you garden in?
I’m on the shores of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario, midway between Detroit and Toronto. They say its zone 5b, but here’s what I do know. We get the last frost in early May, and first frost in early October. There is a constant breeze off the big lake, making it important to harden the seedlings in the spring. July is crazy hot, and we often get warm Octobers. And snow. Lots of snow.
Does it have any special advantages?
There are a lot of old farming communities in my area. The local Farmer’s Markets are quite exceptional. There are numerous roadside stands with great produce and flowers and even some herbs. Most of the old tobacco farms have gone to ginseng, garlic, and vegetables, so its quite a productive area.
When were you bit by the gardening bug?
My first memory of having a job was around age 4 or 5. We had a half acre vegetable garden in sandy soil. My job was to walk the rows of potatoes with a jar, picking the potato bugs by hand. I grew up picking raspberries, tons and tons of raspberries! But I didn’t really get into gardening as an adult until well into my forties. I always tried to help my wife for the past 17 years as she gardened but it was always her thing, not my thing. It wasn’t until I first grew my own hot pepper that I caught the passion. Funny how 1.3 million Scoville units can have that effect.
Are you Hans Solo in the garden or an Ewok? …(Pardon the Star Wars reference, but I AM that age, so it couldn’t be helped;)
My wife is the General, I’m at best a Lieutenant. I take her direction. I’m at that phase where I still have emotional attachments to stuff I plant, and I’m sure I would kill half of it with too much fertilizer if she wasn’t guiding me.
What’s your favorite season in the garden?
In late June you really get the feeling like “wow, look at this green stuff! All those little seedlings from April turned into THIS! TREMENDOUS!”
How much planning/design do you do in your garden? What’s your process?
In the “offseason” it’s like my wife is planning a NASA space mission. Graph paper. Everywhere! We have a dozen raised beds for the vegetables, and when you factor in crop and bed rotation it gets complicated. She keeps excellent records. Then you add in a dozen beds for flowers, herbs and exotics and WOW!
Where do you draw garden inspiration from?
I’m a HUGE fan of the EATING! Cooking and canning drives the plan, along with sitting on the couch by the fire going through online seed catalogs. We go page by page through Baker Creek and we get carried away. Last summer we grew 23 varieties of heirloom tomatoes! This coming season I think we’re up to a half dozen new types of peppers. Its endless, and fun as heck!
Most of our seeds comes from online companies like Baker Creek, Harvest Heritage, West Coast Seeds and Incredible Seeds. We are part of the Seeds of Diversity program. There are shows where gardeners trade seeds. It feels a little bit like being a Star Trek fan at Comicon. Lots of enthusiasm and fun people!
We did a lot of seed saving this year. Part of the fun was eating all these varieties of tomatoes, then deciding which ones to save. Same for the peppers. Just a whole lot trickier. HINT: wear gloves. Ghost peppers are no joke.
What do you really LOVE to grow?
I have become transformed as a pepper head. It started with a chile variety called a “Red Rocket” and became a dangerous obsession from there. My little Naga Viper in a pot has become like a pet. I move it around in the yard, and recently brought him indoors under the grow lights. We made an extreme hot sauce this autumn, I call it “Zeus”. You add it by the thimblefull to salsa or meat, and its FYHA! Next season I’m stepping up in weight class with the Trinidad Scorpion.
How much cooking do you do from your garden?
Eating and canning are a huge part of us finding joy in the garden. We roast our own sunflowers seeds in October (if the blue jays don’t eat them all first!). Carrots, multi-color dragon carrots, sliced and wrapped in tinfoil with butter on the bbq for 30 minutes. 3 kinds of beets. Eggplants, sliced thin brushed with oil on the bbq.
I get nearly a pint of fresh raspberries every 2-3 days from my patch. Malabar spinach, watercress, Bronze Arrowhead lettuce, lots of salads all summer. Radishes the minute the ground warms up. 23 types of tomatoes, peppers, and a alarming amount of green beans! Next season sqash, melons, and a couple of new surprises.
That all sounds delicious! Have you ventured into canning?
YES – Over 100 jars for the 2 of us this season! This is where having a General and a Lieutenant that work well together comes in handy. I am a whiz at peeling apples, slicing onions, chopping garlic and peppers while my wife runs the big picture. We made salsa, pickled beets, pickled beans, pickled peppers, peach hot sauce, Zeus hot sauce, pickled carrots, homemade chutney, and about 40 pounds of apple crisp.
To any of the men that read this…my big takeaway has been my attitude towards food. When you grow it and then can it, you have invested a lot of physical energy into it. I find I value it way more, am conscious of it and enjoy it. The repetitive actions to produce it have almost a meditative effect. I really understand the health benefits that gardening provides.
Which plants have been hard to grow? Any garden “fails”?
The big failures have been the most educational. One of our beds has been killing our zucchini plants for 3 straight seasons. This year 4 plants, no fruit, only male flowers. We bought the soil testing kit and our levels were dismal! This AH-HA moment got us into serious amending. Our arsenal includes sulfur pellets, bone meal, egg shells, mushroom compost and Annie Haven’s Manure Tea.
How do you prep your garden for the winter? Do you grow anything in the winter?
YUUUP! We converted an old pool table in the basement to a winter garden. We have some fluorescent grow lights on a timer, and my Naga Viper is there, along with a Jalapeno and soon a salad garden experiment.
Our municipality has a brown garden waste bag program, so the garden gets ripped up and bagged when we put it to bed. Canadian Thanksgiving is the second week of October, and its a good marker on the calendar.
This season I moved 2 yards of mushroom compost wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow from my driveway to the backyard and aggressively amended all the beds and containers. Our new fig tree is moved from the container garden to the heated garage, the strawberries get covered, coriander seeds get picked, its a very unique time of the year in the garden.
I find myself conscious now of seasons and the calendar, it’s fascinating.
What brought you to garden blogging?
I started my first web site in 1995. Back then we called the internet “The Information Super Highway”. I’ve taught blogging as a profession for many years, both as a coach and as an advisor. Garden blogging is unique in that we get to document and share such an interesting passion with others who are enthusiastic about it as well.
Flower fanatics are very different in their approach and interest than vegetable or herb fans. Gardening is such a diverse and enormous world that there is never a dull moment with a ton of personality and opinions. The message and mission is extremely important – GROW SOMETHING!
And how did you get into podcasting? What do you enjoy most about it?
I LOVE podcasting! I get to entertain, educate and inspire gardeners during their rush hour commutes. Why listen to a boring radio when you can get tips from gardening royalty like Shawna Coronado, Joe Lamp’l, Annie Haven and British gardening rockstars like Michael Perry and Andy McIndoe? Erin, you did a brilliant interview on the podcast! Every single episode I learn something, and I hope the listeners do as well.
What do you do when you’re NOT gardening?
My wife and I are members of our local opera guild, and we love going to the opera. She is actively involved in her pottery guild, and loves smooshing her hands in the clay. I am still participating in combat sports, and go to jiu jitsu 3 days a week.
It’s like human chess. There is a certain satisfaction with tapping out a kid 40 pounds heavier and 20 years younger. The meditative effects of working with clay, gardening and jiu jitsu are all related. When a 190 pounds athlete is kneeling on my chest squeezing my head, I am not thinking about bills, world events or politics. The mind is blank, the inner critic is quieted, and stress is reduced.
What has gardening brought to your life?
We live in fast paced times. Gardening helps people to reconnect with a primal part of ourselves. The therapeutic benefits of gardening are undisputed. For the next generation it is even more important to get that awareness of where food actually comes from. It was a startling moment when I realized I had been eating my wife’s produce and canning for 15 years without thinking about how much work she put into it.
When I started to participate and contribute I started to VALUE the entire process.
Crystal ball time: What do you see in your “garden future”?
For me, the fascinating aspect of creating new gardeners is the progression. In my case it started with 1 pepper plant of my own, and a great teacher in my wife. Gardeners are like golfers. No one wakes up one day with the goal of spending a thousand dollars on sticks to dress funny and hit a ball around a field. Every passionate golfer was introduced to the sport by an experienced golfer. Every passionate gardener was first “encouraged” by a mentor in the garden. I hope I can encourage an entire new generation of gardeners. I feel the podcast can bring the passionate gardener closer to the novice, connect them, inspire them and then set them off on their own path.
Wouldn’t it be cool to touch a million brand new gardeners in the next decade? And all because we all blog about our gardens, share our pictures on social media, encourage people to plant milkweed and pollinator gardens, and share the message. The best is yet to come!
Well said Dave!